Originally published March 3, 2022 by the Daily News-Record.

By Megan Williams

Twenty years ago you might walk into a gym class and find students playing dodgeball or a game of soccer or walking around a track. The focus of physical education was just meant to get students active.

But what school divisions found was that most students were not successful in this model of PE. A small number would actually go on to play the sports that they were being taught. So, over time, with the continuation of ever-changing standards from the Virginia Department of Education, PE has become less about teaching sports and more about teaching students how to make healthy choices after they leave a school division, said Michael King, physical education specialist for Harrisonburg City Public Schools.

John Wayland Elementary School fifth-graders Layton Keller, Connor Peake and Liam Crockett practice jump-rope skills during PE class. Photo by Daniel Lin.

“What has changed in many ways is, we taught a lot of sports-related activities and games,” King said. “Few were successful and even fewer had a positive attitude about PE.”

VDOE standards began to change to teach students how to be active and incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives so they wouldn’t have to learn that skill later in life.

The 2022 update to the physical education Standards of Learning have streamlined a lot of the existing standards, King said. They are taking a more comprehensive look at physical and emotional well-being.

“Knowledge about human movement is fundamental to optimizing health and performance and preventing injury and illness,” according to the VDOE Standards of Learning for 2022 in the subject of physical education. “As the United States struggles to rein in its growing $3.2 trillion health care bill, leading national public health, medical, and government organizations and agencies have called on schools to adopt more strategies to help children participate in high-quality physical education to improve the public’s health and to prevent and control chronic diseases.”

PE standards are broken up into “strands.” The strands are motor skill development, anatomical basis of movement, fitness planning, social and emotional development, and energy balance.

The biggest change in the 2022 Standards of Learning is with the social and emotional development strand.

“The 2022 standards change the fourth strand from social development to social and emotional development to shift the emphasis on compliant behaviors to a focus on the knowledge and skill sets that students need to communicate, collaborate with others, and to be contributing participants in the larger community,” according to the VDOE.

With the evolution of standards of PE, daily activity is now much more planned out and focused on standards, King said. Students come to PE class knowing what they’ll be learning that day. For example, students might come to class knowing that day they’ll be learning a throwing technique and then they’ll participate in an activity to demonstrate it.

Recently, PE has also been aligning more with other subject matters. For instance, if students are learning about a concept in geometry, a PE lesson will be designed to have an activity that incorporates that lesson, King said.

HCPS elementary school students average 150 minutes of PE time a week, and middle and high schools students average 220 minutes of physical education a week.

Physical education today also focuses on teamwork and collaboration, said Sheldon Rice, physical education teacher at John Wayland Elementary School in Rockingham County.

“The emphasis is also on individual skill development so that all students can be successful,” Rice said.

Rockingham County Public Schools also teaches goal setting as it pertains to fitness and physical health.

“We want (students) to get into a routine to develop lifelong skills that they can take with them after they leave us,” Rice said.

Middle and high school RCPS students take PE every other day, and elementary school students have PE 45 minutes twice a week.

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